In Payson

We’re in Payson now, set to recover from the Mighty Mazatals. And mighty they were.

But first, a bit more about Gunsight Gap. This stretch (from Superior to Roosevelt Lake) is probably the hardest of our entire route. Haunted Canyon is one of the slowest ways to make time on a mountain bike. But it’s a lovely canyon, has a nice cabin/ranch in the middle and gets bonus points for being so infrequently traveled. There was, at some point, a continuous trail down the canyon, but most of it is washed away. So it leads to a lot of bouncing bikes over boulders and across the stream.

Gunsight Gap is the next section and it’s even harder than Haunted Canyon. We pick up a tiny bit of very old, forgotten trail, but mostly it’s just bushwacking and about the toughest kind of bushwacking. The jeans and cardboard armor helped us move faster, but with bikes and gear it was slow. Beatiful area, though, and it did beat the heck out of riding the highway.

The flat problems were mostly mine. Slime tubes – zero, Stans – 1. Lee’s rear tire sealed after two reinflations while mine continued to flat well into the evening. Even after 12 patches I couldn’t get a spare tube to hold air.

So, while I could ride, I didn’t have a working spare. This is not a good situation to be in on the Arizona Trail. I ride a 29er, so tubes are not easy to find. A call to Payson revealed no 29er tubes. So I phoned up Shane, who came to the rescue. He was on the road by 7am the next morning, ready to meet us with all sorts of goodies.

Paula got herself out of work for the day, so she joined him in the delivery run. We left in the morning to ride 20+ miles of pavement to the El Oso turnoff, where we would meet Shane and Paula. Although we tried to keep the pavement to a minimum on the route, this section is a joy to ride. The lake is full, the air was crisp and the shoulder wide. After working for 2 days to cross the superstitions (and netting only ~45 miles), it was amazing to travel 20 in less than 2 hours.

Tubes, a new rear tire, mangos, all manner of snacks, and most importantly, energy and enthusasism. Shane and Paula suited up to ride the El Oso climb with us. It was the perfect section of the ride for them to come along with since it had no hike-a-bike and allowed us to talk while we rode.

As we began the climb we were surrounded by dark, powerful clouds. I questioned the wisdom of climbing into the high country, but we rode on. 5 minutes up the rain began and the winds nearly blew us off the road. But it dissipated soon. The climb itself was fantastic. Super steep, but just clear enough that it was easy to ride. Shane climbed it all in middle ring, much to his recently broken pelvis’s dismay. I was in granny gear and loving every minute of it. Talking to Shane is always entertaining, but having Paula along for a section of the ride was an unexpected treat. It took us about 2 hours to climb the 4000 feet up into the Mazatal Mountains, where we found incredible views, rock formations and cool pine trees. As we attained the ridge we rejoined the AZT, fresh out of the Four Peaks Wilderness. It’s a road in this section, but a very nice one that rolls along the ridge and through the forest.

Eventually it was time to say goodbye to Shane and Paula. So sad, but the journey continues. They were headed back for Roosevelt Lake and we were set to descend into Sunflower.

The descent on the Boulder Creek trail is aptly named, except that “overgrown” should be added to the title. Still, the trail didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth since I was able to ride more than 50% of it. Not a great figure considering it was mostly downhill, but, at least it wasn’t all walking. The manzanita are unbelievably thick, and of course the trail featured my favorite: yet another thistle forest. 2005, it seems, is the year of the thistle here in AZ. They have been a constant companion on nearly every trail since we rode through the mega thistle forest on the Bellota trail.

We made it to within a few miles of Sunflower before calling it a night. The campsite had an awesome view of the surrounding mountains and sunrise did not disappoint. It also housed a nice horde of mosquitos that plagued us through the night. No tent (and no fires allowed), so it was a bit of suffering and a longish night. Dinner was slices of roast beef, cold, with tortillas and salad dressing. Thank goodness for the salad dressing since the roast Lee purchased at Roosevelt was pretty bland and we didn’t even have salt.

I got up before sunrise and slowly watched the valley appear before me as I listened to a tune or two on my mp3 player.

The rest of the trail into Sunflower (nothing more than a collection of houses, not a town) wasn’t anything to write home about. It was very overgrown with weeds, difficult to ride and made us wonder if we shouldn’t have just dropped down to the dirt road that was clogged with ATVs, motorcycles and all other manner of motorized transport.

We crossed sycamore creek, then followed AZT signs that took us away from the actual AZT. We were quite confused, but after heading down the highway back to our GPS data we found the trail going through a culvert, but could not figure out why the signs directed us away from it. It was surprising the signage (and trail conditions) were so poor on a section that is so close to Phoenix.

From the highway we could see a short section of the trail. It didn’t look good. More weeded in, difficult to ride (by difficult I mean hike-a-bike uphill, possibly rideable downhill). Lee immediately expressed his doubts and desire to skip it. The trail into sunflower was not really worth riding, and this looked similar, so I almost caved. But we were on the AZT, there was no wilderness and we were judging it based only on the first 100 feet. I almost had a mutiny on my hands, but we headed off to push our bikes up the first turn away from the highway.

The trail for the next 4 miles was surprisingly rideable after that, cruising through green meadows and occasionally rocky, bare areas. The weeds were at a minimum, amazingly. Lee was shocked and admitted he was about to argue about it, but was now glad he hadn’t. But, at 4 miles Lee again expressed doubt about the upcoming section in the Mazatals. I think he had his heart set on a meal at the Rye Cafe, and let his mind open the possibilty of just taking the highway.

It’s time for bed here in Payson, so the rest of the story will be filled in tomorrow….

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